Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint. (Proverbs 29:18)
(Spoiler warning: the post contains book and movie spoilers.)
Frank Herbert published the first Dune book in 1965. Considering that, I would say, in jest but not completely so, that some of the prescience of his main character, Muad’Dib, rubbed off onto his creator. The series handles many subjects, but what I find striking is how it deals with the relations between “sophisticates” and “natives”, with the resultant romanticism and with the fact, still widely overlooked today, that religion can assume a life of its own and cause its adherents to shape reality rather than the other way round.
Besides the book, there’s also the movie Dune, by David Lynch, which, when compared to the books, even just the first alone, does them great disservice. Not that I think Lynch is a bad director—the books contain just too much in the way of word-conveyed matter to be expressed adequately in any movie of reasonable length. The movie, because it needs to focus on actions like most movies do, is simplistic, and on the other hand it adds things not found in the original. Still, it is useful for demonstrating some points—some ideas appear the same in the movie and the first book. What I now engage in is interpretation within the framework of my blog, which means ideological defense of the West in general; creative interpretation, yes, but not that far from the intentions of the author. If anything, his extensive use of Arabic words makes this very relevant to our time.
The setting of the books is essentially the Middle Ages copied and pasted onto a far-future Space Age. Where the Middle Ages had barons, dukes and earls with plots of land as their fiefs, in Dune their fiefs consist of planets. At the center of all this is the desert planet Arrakis, also called Dune, the only source of production for the spice, to which so many in the Imperium are addicted. Through antiquity and medieval times up to the Age of Discovery, Europeans were addicted to the use of spices coming by way of Arabian merchants; and today the modern world is addicted to the oil of Arabia, paying through the nose for it if need be, with the petrodollars providing the lifeblood for Islamic terrorism.
The first book takes places during a transfer of the fiefdom of Arrakis from House Harkonnen to House Atreides, sworn enemies. The Atreides ducal family leaves the comfort of water-soaked Caladan for the desert planet, where every drop must be rationed and taking a shower is out of the question; even then, they’re situated in a relatively isolated form of accommodation, while life just outside, in the desert, is unbearably brutal, and only those who have adapted to it, the natives, the Fremen, know how to survive.
Before House Atreides moves to Arrakis, Baron Harkonnen deviously sets the planet as a final trap for them, and when they’re set he bloodily deposes them and reassumes control of Arrakis. Duke Leto Atreides is captured, but his concubine Jessica and their son Paul escape to the desert and then join the Fremen. Paul subsequently becomes Muad’Dib, leader of the Fremen, and like them in every way. He fights the Harkonnens, and then the Padishah Emperor himself, until his victory and revenge. The books continue with his rule as Emperor and the stories of his children.
Lurking in the background is the constant mention of the Sardaukar. These are the Emperor’s elite troops, described as having been taken as little children to a “hell-world” (Muad’Dib’s phrase) called Salusa Secundus. The few survivors become efficient, remorseless warriors. Muad’Dib relates that the Sardaukar are kept in cohesion by a mystical religion holding them in brotherhood; and although cynicism has started to chip away at that religion by his time, the Sardaukar are still feared, so much so that Baron Harkonnen describes the value of the traitor Dr. Yueh in the words, “…worth more than ten legions of Sardaukar!” It is conventional wisdom that the Sardaukar are nearly impossible to defeat in battle.
Thus much for the introduction. The Fremen are the natives; not actually “sprung from the soil”, yet the first humans there. They recycle their water with the stillsuits they wear. They are scrawny, and contrast themselves with the “water-soft” outsiders. Water is so precious that if one of them dies then his or her water is reclaimed for the tribe. As the most interesting, in my opinion, appendix in the first Dune book, the appendix on religion, says, their customs seem brutal to the outsiders, while to them they are natural, and cause little in the way of a guilty conscience, because their circumstances demand them. When Paul kills one of the Fremen in a duel, his mother asks, reproachfully, “How does it feel like to be a killer?” But for the Fremen this isn’t an issue to philosophize about.
The Fremen are driven by their own mystical religion, planted by the Bene Gesserit, the monastic order to which Jessica Atreides belongs. Paul is regarded as the Mahdi, or Messiah, of which the Bene Gesserit prophesied, much as Hernan Cortez was regarded by the Aztecs as a reincarnation of their chief god. In battle, the Fremen earn the distinction as being the only force able to take upon the Sardaukar and defeat them. That truly spells the death-knell of the current Emperor’s rule.
Paul starts out, in both the first book and the movie, as a well-groomed ducal heir, and ends up in Arrakis as a stillsuit-wearing Fremen. He has “gone native”, much like a certain American who has recently been convicted of treason:
Adam Gadahn dressed up looking the same as the other members of Al Qaeda.
Those individuals can make up a list: “West-soft” heirs of their civilization converted to the ideology of the “Fremen”, and then joining them in every way—the garb, the rhetoric, even the accent, and finally the way of “resisting the injustice of the Harkonnens and the Padishah Emperor” through suicide terrorism.
What drives them to undergo such a total change? The book, and even the movie at one point, hints that Paul Atreides was attracted to the mystic lore of the Fremen on Arrakis, before joining them, before House Atreides had been attacked by the Harkonnens there. The Adam Gadahns of our day begin with a basis of sympathy to “the other”: the post-colonial and multicultural studies that praise “native culture” everywhere and see forcing Western values upon them as the primal sin—the double sin of physical colonialism and cultural imperialism. However, there is more to it than that.
The Atreides family is uprooted from Caladan onto a new location, an entirely different setting. All is changed; the certainty, the guidance, the vision of the past is gone. It could hold as long as House Atreides was safe, but when the Harkonnens took over, the bridges had been burned, and there was no other way for Paul than “going native”.
The West is in a similar plight, of having been uprooted, not physically but ideologically, which is actually worse. Guiding traditions have been eradicated since the 18th century, assuming a frightening rate from the 1960’s onward. John Lennon’s talk about people “living for the day” might be swell for assuaging guilty consciences about wars and overpopulation, but as a vision it is the pits, mainly because it’s not a vision at all. For the beasts there’s no problem in living on carnal drives alone—you never hear them complaining of boredom. For humans, however, such a life could never possibly satisfy. And so, Western man seeks to quell his spiritual hunger in the most brutal ideologies, such as Marxism and Islam. Up to the point of being one of them in all ways, as Adam Gadahn did.
Saad Saadi, a student of the University of Pennsylvania, dressed as a suicide bomber at a Halloween party, posing with the university president, Amy Gutmann. From Michelle Malkin, by way of the Democracy Project.
Nowhere is this plight, this lack of vision, this gloom that leads to such insanity, more apparent than in [much of] Europe. The decision not to have children is taken there for various reasons, with “caring for the earth” the guilt-assuaging excuse, but the end result is the dearth of young people there. Now, this is not to say that old people are worthless. This is to say—and Judeo-Christian tradition holds so too—that there can be no future expectations and dreams for either old or young if there are not enough young people. As Mark Steyn said, given the choice between a small town in the USA with only a few old people left just waiting to die and a teeming city in the Sun Belt with a few old people surrounded by their copious progeny, I know which I wish to set my eyes on. Old age is depressing enough, as King Solomon said; but old age with a tiny future generation is unbearable. Not just for the old, but for the young too, who now feel much as Lot’s daughters did, that “the end of all flesh” has come, and therefore, like them, are willing to do the unthinkable. Like what Gadahn did.
And so it is that small children wearing suicide belts, and little girls dressed in veils, are not seen as an affront to Western values—for these have long been absent—but as something that could satisfy one’s spiritual hunger. In this spiritual desert exemplified by multiculturalist Europe, even carrion makes a good meal.
Scene from the movie Dune: Alia, veiled, waves her knife.
The Fremen are brutal and violent, their customs going against the little of tradition which is still left in our memories, their way of life repugnant; but they are the natives, they are the ones with roots in this cosmopolitan, multicultural world. We who have lost our roots are destined to die the death of the aging, rotting tree with no seeds to bear, unless we re-root ourselves by being like the rooted, ideologically confident Other. And so it is that many Westerners sympathize with the Marxist or Muslim enemy, some even becoming them.
The problem is ideological at its root, so the solution can be only ideological. At the very least, the point of view that Western culture, based in Greek (“Atreides”), Jewish and Christian traditions, is a worthy one, no less than any other, must be allowed. Those who are ideologically confident must show the others why Western tradition offers far more freedom than either the total individualism and taboo-breaking of Sixties Hippiedom or the total collectivism and submission of Communism and Islam. In the next books of Dune, Herbert shows the Fremen in all their frailty: oppressive throughout the Imperium, depopulating whole planets, and riven inwardly by internecine warfare. Westerners sympathize with their “Fremen” because of their current void; were the void to be filled with a reclaiming of Western tradition, the leakage would be stopped, and we might have a chance at stemming the tide. Good luck to us all.
Labels: culture, ibloga, leftism